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Press Release: Panama and Greece Catholic Churches demand shipping CO2 cuts

PRESS RELEASE: Against the backdrop of a United Nations summit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping industry, Catholic institutions that are connected to the oceans are announcing their divestment from fossil fuels. These include institutions in Panama, the world’s largest shipping registry, the Philippines, home to the largest group of seafarers, Greece, the world’s largest shipowning nation, and port cities across Europe.

The announcements were made at a Vatican-convened conference, The Common Good and Our Common Seas, which explored Catholic teaching on protection of the marine environment.  The Catholic conference coincides with a highly anticipated meeting of the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, the UN agency charged with coordinating security and environmental protection for the world’s shipping industry.

Discussions at the IMO will focus on short-term urgent actions to cut CO2, such as global speed limits or tougher efficiency standards for all ships. Delegates will also start work designing measures to transition the industry away from fossil fuels entirely over the medium to long term, to contribute to the stabilization of global warming. Divestment from Catholic institutions signals a high standard of ambition for the IMO meeting, which begins 13 May.

The Catholic institutions making today’s announcement of divestment from fossil fuels include the following:

  • The Archdiocese of Panama, home of the world’s largest shipping registry, where divestment signals crucial leadership from the church that represents an estimated 70-80% of the population. Over 40% of the entire annual cargo of the shipping industry consists of fossil fuels, and Panama is the flag state for a quarter of the world’s “dry bulk” ships–the carriers of the global coal trade. Despite the Panama Canal facing increasing financial costs from climate change, Panama’s delegation to IMO resisted CO2 targets for shipping, and tried to block reforms aimed at bringing more transparency to the organisation.
  • Caritas Philippines, the Church’s development and advocacy arm in the Philippines, where divestment from fossil fuels will help protect the millions of Filipinos who are vulnerable to sea level rise. Filipinos account for  approximately 25% of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers. Out-at-sea ships run on the dirtiest of all oil products, heavy fuel oil, which contains up to 3,500 times the sulphur content of road diesel. While the health impact of its fumes on cruise ship passengers is gaining some attention, little concern has been shown for the health of seafarers who are exposed for much longer periods, especially if they are denied shore leave. Low and zero emission technologies exist, but need to be scaled up by the industry.
  • The Dioceses of Naples, Civitavecchia-Tarquinia, Savona-Noli, and Siracusa, Italy, important ports for both shipping and transportation, where divestment will help protect residents who are vulnerable to excess mortality due to air pollution. Cruise ships arrive daily in Naples and Savona. Civitavecchia is the main entry point for cruise tourists to Rome, and living near its harbor has been associated with higher rates of lung cancer and neurological disease. Siracusa is an important port for oil shipments from a nearby Exxon-Mobil refinery.
  • The Catholic Church in Greece and the Archdiocese of Malta, key entry points for migrants from Africa, where divestment will help protect those who make a dangerous journey from more intense storms. Greece is the largest shipowning nation in the world. The government, and many Greek shipping companies, now support speed limits at sea to curb fossil fuel consumption.

Catholic institutions see divestment as a way to address the climate crisis that is contributing to the rising seas, stronger storms, and growing deserts that disproportionately harm vulnerable people.

The Common Good and Our Common Seas conference was convened by the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, the Vatican’s social and environmental ministry, with participation from a coalition of leading Catholic groups. Speakers included Vatican representatives and Simon C. Bergulf, the director of regulatory affairs for A.P. Møller–Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company.

Pope Francis’ statement to the conference is here (in English).

Mons. José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, Metropolitan Archbishop of Panama said, “The Archdiocese of Panama–the first archdiocese in the Americas to divest and the first from the home of the world’s largest shipping channel–announces its willingness to start a pastoral work in favor of integral ecology.”

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Metropolitan Archbishop of Naples, said, “I am pleased to communicate the convinced commitment of the Archdiocese of Naples to the Catholic fossil fuels divestment campaign . . . It is time to become aware of the seriousness of the climate crisis and to work to ensure a respectful change in behaviors and lifestyles of each person. I think that this civic responsibility must be a moral duty and a concrete commitment for every good Christian.”

Simon Bergulf, Director of Regulatory Affairs, A.P Moller-Maersk, said, “In December 2018 we decided our targets: achieving 60% reduction of GHG by 2030 and being net zero by 2050. Why? Shipping represents 2-3% of global emissions. We are glad that we’re receiving pressure from investors and consumers who are aware that something must change. We’ll be present at IMO in London and we are confident that things will change.”

Tomás Insua, Executive Director of Global Catholic Climate Movement, a convener of the conference, said, “The climate crisis is real, and we don’t have a moment to lose in solving it. Dropping fossil fuels sends a strong message to the world–the Catholic Church isn’t waiting for climate justice.”

A total of 12 institutions announce their divestment today, with the full list here. They join a global total of 120+ Catholic institutions that have divested to date.

Global Catholic Climate Movement is an international network of 800+ Catholic institutions and thousands of people, working together to achieve the Laudato Si’ vision and urgently solve the climate crisis.

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